Awesome Ashok storms into 2-shot lead in Aramco Saudi Ladies International

Aditi Ashok of India on her way to a sparkling 6-under 66 Friday in the second round of the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by PIF. (Tristan Jones LET)
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Updated 17 February 2023
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Awesome Ashok storms into 2-shot lead in Aramco Saudi Ladies International

KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY: In-form Indian star Aditi Ashok produced a scintillating six-under 66 in the second round of the $5 million Aramco Saudi Ladies International, presented by Public Investment Fund, to take a two-shot lead over world No. 1 Lydia Ko and American dark horse Lilia Vu at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.

Ashok, who won the season-opening Magical Kenya Ladies Open at Vipingo Ridge just two weeks ago, was just one shot behind overnight leaders Ko and Pajaree Anannarukarn after a bogey-free 65, and she continued her incredible vein of form going out in the afternoon on day two.

Teeing off on 10, she made a fabulous start with four birdies in her opening five holes, before birdying her seventh and eagling her ninth, the par-five 18th, for a tournament record of 29.

Bogeys on the turn and hole six threatened briefly to derail her charge, but a birdie on nine, her 18th, ensured a healthy two-shot lead over Ko (69) and Vu, who carded a bogey-free six-under 66.

Ashok, on 13 under at the halfway stage, said: “It was just one of those days where whenever I stepped to the ball I just knew the ball was going in.

“It was just one of those days where everything works in your favor; the front nine was definitely like that.”

On her third-round strategy, the 24-year-old said: “I’m just going to try and focus on doing the same stuff I’ve done.

“I’ve played the par fives pretty good. The rest of the time I’ve just hit fairways and greens, got myself the birdie putts.

“Sometimes I hit a good putt and it goes in, but it’s important to have the birdie putts all day.”

Vu credited the conditions for helping her stay focused and produce a superb 66 in the wind.

She said: “I think the wind helped because it helps you play one shot at a time. I think today the wind is a little different from yesterday so we had to adjust to that, but just playing one shot at a time.”

Albane Valenzuela of Switzerland is just a shot further back on 10 under after producing a six-under 66 of her own, a week after making her full debut on the Ladies European Tour.

The 25-year-old, who represented her country at the 2020 Olympics, credited the recent help of former US Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin for her good form.

She said: “It’s been really fun. My game was solid and today was definitely challenging in the back nine with the wind, but I just stayed very present.

“I’m just having a lot of fun — grinded out there. I think I just enjoyed a little bit lowering my expectations and just trying my best in the conditions.

“I think I’ve been pretty solid tee to green, but my iron play has been very solid for quite a few months now, and I feel like it’s definitely paying off, the work in the off-season.

“Last week, I found a little something in my putting that makes the roll a little bit better, switching grips. I think that was a fun part of playing alongside the Tournament of Champions — I got pointers from Corey Pavin, and his tip helped me.

“I think I’m getting better speed control, not making as many mistakes on the green as I could have before.”

Mexico’s Gaby Lopez and Emily Kristine Pedersen are a shot back in joint fifth on nine under, one ahead of last year’s joint runner-up Johanna Gustavsson and Cara Gainer of England, who both produced five-under rounds of 67.

Sweden’s Gustavsson is happy with her situation going into the third round. She said: “I played very solid. Yesterday I think I played even better actually. It was very windy yesterday, and I’ve putted very good both days, which obviously helps.

“It’s good to be back. I like it here, obviously. Let’s see what the weekend brings.”

Talking about her performance in 2022, when she finished five shots off champion Georgia Hall of England, Gustavsson said: “It was the biggest thing I’ve done so far in my career at that point.

“I was very proud of myself, how I handled the weekend, especially the last day. Obviously it set me up quite nicely for the year, and, yes, I have good memories.”

Englishwoman Gainer enjoyed the more benign conditions after going out in the morning. She said: “I really enjoyed it. I played really well yesterday considering the conditions. We had sort of the gusting 25, 30 mph winds pretty much the whole round because we were off last.

“So it was really tough yesterday. I’m glad I got a good round to sort of begin the tournament, and then, yes, backed it up really nicely today. I didn’t quite strike it as good as yesterday, but I putted really well. That’s golf, isn’t it?

“I knew I was playing well this week and I like to step up at these big events. It’s just amazing to be playing with such incredible players, a really world-class field in other than a major. I’m really pleased after two days.”


Chasing 5th straight win, Nelly Korda is 2 shots back at Chevron Championship after a first-round 68

Updated 19 April 2024
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Chasing 5th straight win, Nelly Korda is 2 shots back at Chevron Championship after a first-round 68

  • She could join Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sorenstam (2004-05) as the only players to win five consecutive LPGA events
  • Defending champion and world No. 2 Lilia Vu withdrew because of a back injury

THE WOODLANDS, Texas: Nelly Korda, who is looking to tie an LPGA Tour record with her fifth straight win, shot a 4-under 68 on Thursday in the opening round of the Chevron Championship, leaving her two shots behind leader Lauren Coughlin in the year’s first major.

Coughlin shot a bogey-free 66 in windy conditions at Carlton Woods, which is hosting the event for the second time.

The top-ranked Korda is seeking her second major after winning the Women’s PGA Championship in 2021. She could join Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sorenstam (2004-05) as the only players to win five consecutive LPGA events.

Korda said she was battling fatigue from recent tournaments at the beginning of her round. She bogeyed her first hole, the par-4 10th.

“I (could) definitely still feel maybe a little bit of tiredness, so it took me a while to get going,” she said. “I felt the nerves definitely at the start of the round. Once I made the turn, I was just playing free golf.”

She made her first birdie on the par-4 14th hole, something she half-jokingly credited to a snack.

“I actually had an apple on 13, and that gave me actually a nice boost,” she said. “I felt a lot better after that. Maybe I should have apples more often.”

The 25-year-old finished with six birdies, including four in the final six holes.

“Two of them were par 5s, so I got to take advantage of that with my length,” she said. “Hit a really good tee shot, and then I was just on the front of the green on 17, and the other one I was just on the fringe, too. I two-putted pretty much for birdie on those. Then I had wedge shots in on the other two, too. Taking advantage of my length and hitting good tee shots.”

Marina Alex and Japan’s Minami Katsu also shot 68. Lydia Ko was one of five players at 69.

The 31-year-old Coughlin, who played in college at Virginia and has never won on the LPGA Tour, made three birdies in a four-hole span from Nos. 2-5. She believes her game has benefited from her recent decision to make husband John Pond her full-time caddie.

“He’s really good at talking through everything when I want to get really fast and make a decision really quickly,” Coughlin said. “He is really good at putting all the work in, all the extra work, all the extra walking ... making sure the strategy is really good and double checking everything. But ... he’s always been really good with how he talks to me and communicates what he thinks I need to do and how I need to do it.”

Defending champion and world No. 2 Lilia Vu withdrew because of a back injury. She issued a statement on Instagram saying she had “severe discomfort” in her back during warmups.

“I have been dealing with a back injury for a while now,” Vu said in the statement. “Some days are better than others, and today was unfortunately not a good day. During my normal warmup routine, I had severe discomfort in my back and I felt that I could not compete up to my standards and made the decision to withdraw from the tournament ahead of my tee time.”

She added that she was returning home to see her doctors and determine the next steps.

Later in the day, last year’s runner-up Angel Yin withdrew because of an injury after shooting 78.

A win by Ko would put her in the LPGA Hall of Fame. She won the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in January for her 20th LPGA title.

The 26-year-old New Zealander admitted that she still gets nervous before tournaments despite all her experience and success.

“It doesn’t matter what event we’re playing or what circumstances, when you’re younger you want to get away from the nerves,” Ko said. “To some extent as long as you can control it the nerves are good for you and you’re able to excel and get the adrenaline to hit some shots that you may not be able to execute when you’re just practicing.”


Li and Hend one back of Catlin while Moroccans Lguirati and Raouzi make cut at 2024 Saudi Open

Updated 18 April 2024
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Li and Hend one back of Catlin while Moroccans Lguirati and Raouzi make cut at 2024 Saudi Open

  • John Catlin birdied the 18th to remain at the top of the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF leaderboard
  • Moroccans Ayoub Lgiurati and Othman Raouzi made the cut as Saudi amateur Khalid Walid Attieh missed by one stroke

RIYADH: Li Haotong and Scott Hend made the most of the calm morning conditions to head into the weekend one shot behind pacesetter John Catlin, who leads on 10-under-par after day two of the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF.

Catlin birdied the 18th hole as the sun set on a warm day at Riyadh Golf Club to ensure he heads into Friday ahead of Chinese star and DP World Tour member Li, who shot a scintillating 65, and Australian Hend. Steve Lewton’s 64 was the best round of the day and sees him in third place alongside David Puig, who finished his round with a triple bogey on the ninth hole.

Amateur Khalid Walid Attieh looked set to make history as the first Saudi player to make the cut since the tournament was elevated to the Asian Tour, however three bogeys on the back nine saw him miss out by one, with a putt just sliding by at the last.

Moroccan golfers Ayoub Lguirati and Othman Raouzi, who were two of the golfers given special invites to the tournament as part of Golf Saudi’s strategic partnership with the Arab Golf Federation, finished on one-under-par and even par respectively to extend their participation.

Lguirati said: “It was a positive day for me with only one bogey and one birdie. I stuck to my strategy all day and ended with a good result in a tough competition. I am very happy to have made the cut in this tournament and to play over the next two days.

“I usually play on the second tier Asian Development Tour but with the help of the Royal Moroccan Golf Association and Golf Saudi I have been able to reach this level and I continue improving.”

Meanwhile, Li is excited to challenge for the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF trophy as he looks to put some recent poor form behind him. Four birdies in five holes on his back nine catapulted him up the leaderboard.

Li said: “I played really well and wasted some chances. The course played a lot easier compared to yesterday, because of no wind and easier pin positions.

“I am still struggling a little bit off the tee, but except for that everything’s pretty solid overall. I am here to try and get the job done and get the trophy! So hopefully I have a hot start tomorrow.”

Li will play alongside Hend and Catlin on Friday, but will be wary of Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Puig in the penultimate group, who won the PIF Moment of the Day for a stunning front nine of 29, which included five birdies and an eagle in his first six holes.


Strong field assembled for 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF

Updated 16 April 2024
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Strong field assembled for 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF

  • Peter Uihlein, who plays for LIV Golf team RangeGoats GC, is making his first visit to Riyadh and expressed his excitement at playing in the Saudi capital
  • Haotong Li: I want to see different golf courses to the ones I have played previously and to visit new parts of the world

RIYADH: A strong field has assembled for the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF, commencing tomorrow, April 17, with Asian Tour, LIV Golf and DP World Tour stars teeing off at Riyadh Golf Club.

Thai star Denwit Boriboonsub won the 2023 Saudi Open in December in stunning fashion, but Henrik Stenson, Peter Uihlien and Haotong Li are the standout names hoping to dethrone him, as 144 players from 33 different countries fight for glory from 17-20 April.

There are 20 Arab golfers from eight nations in the field, including seven from Saudi Arabia, who have all been handed the opportunity to compete alongside some of the world’s best players as golf continues to develop in the region. Golf&More will be on display at the course throughout the week with live DJ sessions at sunset, special activities for children and the authentic Sajah Bazaar giving fans the opportunity to immerse themselves in local culture.

Peter Uihlein, who plays for LIV Golf team RangeGoats GC, is making his first visit to Riyadh and expressed his excitement at playing in the Saudi capital. The American believes it will be an action-packed four rounds, filled with low scores and plenty of birdies.

Uihlein said: “I watched the 2023 Saudi Open on TV in December and the Aramco Series Ladies International recently and I saw a lot of low scores, so I am hoping for a tournament full of birdies. It does depend how much the wind blows, but hopefully it dies down later in the week. 

“It’s my first time in Riyadh, having been to Jeddah a few times, and I’m excited about it. I spoke to Othman [Almulla] about how many courses are planned and the ones they are already building around the Kingdom. It is really cool to be here.

“I feel like the stuff I am working on is getting better and better, and I feel a little bit sharper as the weeks go on. It is why I’m here - to carry on working on my game ahead of LIV Adelaide and LIV Singapore.”

Chinese sensation Haotong Li is a four-time DP World Tour winner and has chosen to play in the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF to experience the continued growth of the game in the Kingdom.

Li said: “I want to see different golf courses to the ones I have played previously and to visit new parts of the world. It’s extremely exciting to play this week and do something special. I am truly honoured to be here and be a part of growing the game as big as possible. Hopefully everybody starts to fall in love with golf.

Golf Saudi CEO Noah Alireza spoke to gathered media ahead of the tournament and he stressed the importance of the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF’s commitment to handing opportunities to national and regional players.

Alireza said: “We are delighted to welcome a strong field to the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF following its first staging on the Asian Tour last year and I am certain that this week will prove a success with exciting golf on show at Riyadh Golf Club.

“The opportunity that the Saudi Open presents to all of the competitors, but particularly to the seven Saudi nationals and the 13 other Arab golfers in the field, is one of the main driving forces behind our desire to host this tournament in Riyadh. Playing alongside the best Asian Tour players, plus a number of LIV Golf and DP World Tour members, helps them understand what it takes to reach this level and is a vital part of their golf education. It is a key part of Golf Saudi’s commitment to golf in our country.”


Othman Almulla poised to impress at 2024 Saudi Open

Updated 15 April 2024
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Othman Almulla poised to impress at 2024 Saudi Open

  • Almulla, who turned professional in 2019, is one of seven Saudi golfers set to compete in the 2024 Saudi Open
  • Almulla facilitated media to a Walk With A Pro at Riyadh Golf Club ahead of the tournament from Apr. 17 to 20

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s first professional golfer Othman Almulla looked poised to impress at the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF, as he entertained media at Riyadh Golf Club ahead of the event.

Almulla, who turned professional in 2019, is one of seven Saudi golfers set to compete in the Asian Tour event, including fellow professionals Faisal Salhab and Saud Al-Sharif. He facilitated media to a Walk With A Pro at Riyadh Golf Club ahead of the tournament from Apr. 17 to 20.

The 37-year-old walked for three holes with journalists as he explained his thought process behind each shot and gave his views to the gathered media on the continued emergence of the game in the Kingdom, plus Golf Saudi’s exciting plans to grow golf further.

The gathered media were also given a professional coaching clinic by Golf Saudi coaches in the Saudi capital, where Golf & More will see an exciting array of onsite activities each day as the Eid-Al-Fitr celebrations continue, including live DJ sessions, the authentic Sajaah Bazaar and a dedicated kid zone.

Almulla highlighted the importance of giving both children and adults a gateway into golf by turning the tournament into a festival of activity, and admitted it would be a dream come true to lift the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF trophy on Saturday evening.

Almulla said: “The 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF is set to be another fantastic event here at Riyadh Golf Club and I am excited to compete in my national open once again. In addition to the world class golf on display, there will be attractions to keep fans of all ages entertained throughout each tournament day as the Eid celebrations are extended.

“It is vital that we use the Saudi Open as gateway to golf, and encourage more Saudis to start playing the sport. The sunset sessions put on at the end of the day’s play and the beautiful Sajaah Bazaar will attract more fans to Riyadh Golf Club to see our great sport.

“Spending time with the media today will help to drive increased participation in the sport through their understanding and knowledge of the game when they cover it. It was really interesting to be able to talk to them about some of the more intricate parts of the game. I hope that they enjoyed it as much as I did.”

Almulla is part of a field headlined by LIV Golf players Henrik Stenson, David Puig, Peter Uihlein and Andy Ogletree at Riyadh Golf Club, where thanks to collaboration with the Arab Golf Federation, 14 golfers from seven different countries in the Middle East and North African region have been invited to compete.

Meanwhile, each evening the fan zone will come alive at sunset as the Golf & More offering takes center stage. Spectators are set to flock to the authentic Sajah Bazaar and enjoy live music from local DJs, all complemented by stunning firework shows and food and beverage options for all the family.


Haya Alsulaiman’s mission to empower women through golf in Middle East

Updated 14 April 2024
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Haya Alsulaiman’s mission to empower women through golf in Middle East

  • Saudi owner of Golftec Dubai is offering new avenue to embrace a sport long seen as a male domain

DUBAI: Thirty-one-year-old Haya Ghassan Alsulaiman, Saudi owner of the Dubai-based golf coaching center Golftec, is hoping to encourage more women to play the sport in the Middle East.

Already one of the US’ most popular institutions for golf development, Golftec — with Alsulaiman at the helm — launched in 2023 at Dubai City Walk.

The organization was initially founded in 1995 in the basement of a Denver, Colorado, country club, and has since become a household name around the world, operating in six countries, with more than 210 locations employing in excess of 800 full-time golf coaches.

However, it remains little known in the Middle East.

Alsulaiman is ready to change that across the UAE and wider region and, in the process, empower more women to embrace a sport that has long been seen as the domain of men.

“I am used to being the only woman in a male-dominated industry,” Alsulaiman told Arab News, explaining that she had previously worked for her father’s automotive dealership in Saudi where she was the only female employee among more than 200 men.

Growing up in Saudi Arabia, Alsulaiman would vacation in California with her family every summer, and would regularly play tennis with her father.

When her father injured his knee, he switched to golf and learned how to play with Golftec.

“It was much easier for my father to understand the sport with this type of learning facility,” she said. “Then he encouraged my sister to get involved by first becoming his caddy.

“The more she went with my father, the more she desired to play,” Alsulaiman said. “Then she suggested to take lessons with him at Golftec.”

Haya soon caught the bug and joined her father and sister in taking golf classes.

From 2014 she began playing golf each summer during the family holiday in California.

“The routine was to take a lesson or two at Golftec and then go out on the range to practice what we were taught in the lesson and then, two days after, go play on an official golf course,” she said. “That was our routine, week after week.”

Alsulaiman developed a great love for the sport. However, when she returned to Saudi after the summer, she had nowhere to practice and play.

“In Saudi there were not the facilities for golf that there are today and no coaches, so we could only play in the summer,” she said. “We played from summer to summer. The sport bonded our family. We so enjoyed it. We laughed, had fun and engaged in family friendly competition.”

After the pandemic, Alsulaiman decided to leave Saudi Arabia and move to Dubai. Following her father’s entrepreneurial spirit, she opened her own business — Golftec’s first branch in the Middle East.

The business allows her to do what she loves and, she said, encourage more women to play the sport.

While golf has become a popular sport in the UAE, with many golf courses and training centers, Alsulaiman said that there was nothing that matched Golftec’s teaching methodology, with the advanced use of motion technology and video feedback making it easy for trainees to follow. She also finds the learning environment less intimidating than that of a golf club.

“It’s relaxed and fun and is a perfect place to encourage more women to learn,” she said.

Just under a decade ago the idea of a Saudi female golfer would have been hard to imagine. Today, thanks to a slew of social reforms under Saudi Vision 2030, golf and many other sports are increasingly accessible to women across the country.

In 2020, the inaugural Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by the Public Investment Fund was held at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City, signaling a turning point for women’s golf in the Kingdom.

The event also launched a comprehensive national golf sustainability strategy that oversees the environmental, economic and social aspects of the sport.

In December 2023, the Royal Diriyah Golf Club was unveiled in an event that saw Saudi women and men take to the Greg Norman-designed golf course for the first time alongside international guests.

Abeer Al-Johani, director of the Federation Office at the Saudi Golf Federation, said that the strides women were making in the sport reflected the social and economic changes in the Kingdom.

“Saudi women aside, women playing golf need much more sport, more media coverage and more opportunities,” Al-Johani told Arab News. “We need similar encouragement to what men receive but I believe we are beginning to see a lot of change — a lot of women are supporting other women in the sport specifically.”

Alsulaiman and Golftec are more than playing their part in making that happen.